Pret A Manger trials plastic bottle alternatives across select stores

Pret A Manger is looking to reduce the number of plastic bottles sold at its outlets and on the high streets, by offering free filtered water and reusable glass bottles at its three Veggie Pret shops.

The high street food and drinks retailer announced last week that three Veggie Pret shops would encourage customers to either fill up their bottles for free, or purchase reusable bottles, although plastic water bottles will still be sold at the outlets.

The initiative will all extends to shops in Manchester by the end of the month. Pret’s chief executive Clive Schlee said that the aim of the initiative was to “understand if customers will choose to refill a bottle rather than buying a new plastic one”.

“Plastic bottles present a real challenge and there are two schools of thought within Pret,” Schlee said. “The passionate environmentalists say stop selling them altogether, while the pragmatists say make it as easy as you can for customers to use fewer plastic bottles. We are looking carefully at both options. I tend towards the pragmatist end myself.

“The trial of reusable bottles and taps in our Veggie Pret and Manchester shops is just the start of Pret trying to do more when it comes to packaging.”

Pret wants consumers to provide feedback on the initiative, which offers two sizes of reusable glass bottles.

Plastic plague

While it may only be a small step from Pret, it is a timely one. Earlier this month, Greenpeace revealed that Coca-Cola increased its production of throwaway plastic bottles last year by well over a billion.

The issue is gaining traction in the political sphere, with Defra Secretary Michael Gove confirming he will work with businesses to see how a drinks container deposit return scheme could work in England. Similar schemes have proved highly successful in Scandinavian countries such as Denmark, where recycling rates of containers are now above 90%.

Elsewhere, London’s Borough Market is to introduce free drinking water fountains as part of a new pledge to phase out sales of all single-use plastic bottles over the next six months. London retailer Selfridges stopped the sale of single-use plastic water bottles back in 2015.

As for Pret, plastic water bottles are just one part of the waste battle. The retailer has been donating unsold food to the homeless for 30 years and since April 2017, customers visiting Pret stores across Greater London have been offered a 25p discount on hot drinks if they bring in a reusable cup. The company has since extended this offer across all UK stores.

Pret’s head of sustainability John Isherwood revealed he received “more customer questions about packaging than any other sustainable business issue”. Pret has been working with companies such as Simply Cups and A Short Walk to introduce recyclable and renewable packaging for its coffee cups.

Matt Mace

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